Connecting People In Their Every Need

Gary on his ownGary Thurman’s job as United Way 2-1-1 Call Center Manager is to make sure people in need find  resources.
That is also how Gary gives back to our community by volunteering for the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the National Weather Service. It’s the severe weather – common this time of year – that springs Gary the volunteer into action as it did earlier this month when a tornado struck the small Missouri town of Orrick.
Receiving a flurry of texts and emails, and even attending a webinar, were all a part of getting volunteers like Gary prepared for an expected severe weather outbreak on Mother’s Day weekend. It was late Saturday afternoon – May 10 – and Gary, armed with his binoculars and two-way Ham Radio, was scouting the skies from a vantage point near Grain Valley and Oak Grove, Missouri. Gary is a trained volunteer weather spotter of the National Weather Service through the Jackson County Amateur Radio Emergency Service.
“Weather Spotters watch the clouds and sky . We are not storm chasers. We are at a safe distance and don’t drive into the storm,” Gary says. “They can see things on the radar but it doesn’t tell the whole picture. There are things you see on the ground.”
At about 5:30 p.m., an EF2 tornado struck Orrick, a town of 800 residents about 25 miles northeast of Kansas City and about 15 miles directly north of where Gary had stationed himself. There were no injuries from the Orrick tornado but about 80 percent of the city was damaged, including 200 to 300 homes, three churches and a school.
That night, Gary got a call from the Salvation Army.
We know it is Mother’s Day but could you drive a canteen truck to Orrick tomorrow?
By 8 a.m. Sunday, the canteen truck was loaded and Gary was on the road. By 11 a.m., Gary had set up the canteen across the street from the Orrick volunteer fire department on Highway Z and began serving meals.
“We don’t go into the impacted area. We park outside, on the outskirts of town because you don’t want to go in and interfere,” Gary says. “We are not there to be tourists. We are there to do what we are doing.”

 

Orrick

As typical, the first to arrive at the canteen are the fire and police department crews, and then the Red Cross volunteers. Half the meals brought by the canteen truck were transferred to a minivan driven by Red Cross volunteers.
“They took them to the people who are cleaning up the debris. We all work together, all of us together. We don’t care who takes the credit,” Gary says.
The mood that morning certainly wasn’t one of despair.
“Most people were happy they weren’t hurt more,” Gary says. “I think that is because people had a warning and knew it was coming. 
There was a lot of damage, but no one was really hurt. People reacted to the warning and took cover.”
Orrick is the kind of volunteer gig that Gary thinks benefits his job at United Way by improving communications and building relationships with those he often works with through United Way 2-1-1.
“We all know each other and have each other’s numbers in our cell phones,” says Gary, who retired from the Kansas City Police Department as a captain in 2010. He joined United Way in the fall of 2011 as our Emergency Management Coordinator. He was recently promoted to United Way 2-1-1 Call Center Manager.
Gary is also a Red Cross duty officer once a week on the Thursday overnight shift.
If there is a need for Red Cross assistance from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., Gary gets the call from first responders.
“United Way 2-1-1′s primary purpose is to connect people with help. On a good day people need help paying utilities and help getting medical supplies,” Gary says. ”Come a disaster, there is no real difference in what I do. We are connecting people to the services that they need.
“It’s a very fulfilling job. It is great to help someone who needs something. I can’t fix their house. I can’t change that they lost their possessions. I can give them some meals and water; help them through the initial time.”
Scott Jones, Vice President of Community Services at United Way of Greater Kansas City, commends Gary for being a key member in many local and regional emergency management organizations.
“United Way 2-1-1 has the responsibility to disseminate information to our callers in times of disaster. The call volume could rise from hundreds to thousands of calls depending on the event. The time of the disaster is not the time to decide to get involved in emergency management organizations,” Scott says.
Gary’s involvement include the local, Missouri and Kansas VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters), Regional Metropolitan Emergency Management Committee, the FEMA Region VII Steering Committee, The Governor’s Partnership of Faith Based and Community Organizations in Missouri.
“United Way 2-1-1 is able to gather pertinent information quickly due to Gary’s involvement,” Scott says. “Although the tornado did not hit the Kansas City metro area, Orrick is in Ray County which is one of the 23 counties served by United Way 2-1-1.”


The More Places You’ll Go

Anthony 1“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

Sometimes when you read, it will lead you to places you never thought you would go.
Nancy Whitworth knew her role as a United Way of Greater Kansas City Women’s Leadership Council volunteer at reStart: She would read to the children living at the homeless shelter.
Nancy walked into reStart on a recent afternoon hoping to share the joy of reading. She left changing a life.
                                                                                             
* * *
Nancy, Director of Human Resources and Development at McCownGordon Construction, has been a member of the Women’s Leadership Council for more than three years. Because she’s so involved – volunteering to serve on the council’s Advisory Committee – Nancy has a clear understanding on why council members would choose reading to children at the reStart Quality Matters site as an activity. After all, education is the focus of the Women’s Leadership Council.
Shortly after arriving at reStart that spring afternoon, Nancy plopped herself down on the floor and gathered the attention of a small group of children ranging in age from 5 to 8 years.
She opened a book by one of her favorites authors – Dr. Seuss – and read. When Nancy finished, her band of little listeners eagerly scooted off to seek out another volunteer reader.
Nancy looked around the room and noticed a young man who was reading a different Dr. Seuss book. Only three adults were listening to the young man.
Nancy was about to make things change.
                                                                                            
* * *
Anthony Cerda is 18 and homeless. He dropped out of high school the middle of his senior year and has been living at reStart’s Youth Emergency Center ever since walking from Joplin about a month or so ago. Anthony is focusing now on building a new life in Kansas City that will begin with getting a high school degree and a job.
One afternoon, the teens living in the center were encouraged to come to a reading session. It wasn’t such a difficult sale on Anthony because he loves books.
“My mom read me books,” he says. His favorite as a child was “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”
Nowadays, poetry is what Anthony mostly enjoys reading.
“It shows feelings to me,” he explains. “You can feel what they are feeling.”
On that particular afternoon, Anthony wanted to do something more than sit amid the Women’s Leadership Council volunteers and the younger kids from the shelter.
“I had the urge to read to someone,” he says.
So he picked up a Dr. Seuss book and began to read to the adults sitting nearby.
“You do that really well. You would make a great teacher,” Anthony heard someone say. It was, Anthony noticed, a woman who had come over to hear him read.
Anthony shrugged his shoulders. He shook his head.
A teacher?
Anthony dismisses the idea. He wants to pursue something tied to his love of and talent in drawing – maybe a tattoo artist.
He kept reading.
“Then he got this little light in his eye,” Nancy recalls, “like he was intrigued by the idea that he could be a teacher.”
“Maybe, yeah, maybe, I could be a teacher,” Anthony first thinks and then shares with the small group.

Anthony 2
                                                                                            * * *
Days later, Anthony sits at a dining table in the Youth Emergency Shelter retelling that day when someone mentioned a job he had never really considered.
“It was a good feeling that maybe I could do this…be a teacher,” Anthony says.
Then he is given a direct question: Are you really now thinking that you might want to be a teacher someday?
Anthony – who has been spending most of the conversation looking down at the dining table – raises his head.
His slight smile brings something different, something hopeful to his eyes.
With a direct look brimming with affirmation, Anthony answers.
“Probably…Yes.”

Fulfilling the Important Role of Mentor

Joe PrengerJoe Prenger knows the importance of getting good advice when you’re young, and the importance of taking that advice.
“I was always told by my father to try my hardest in school as it would make things easier later on down the road,” Joe says.
Unfortunately, Joe didn’t take his father’s advice, deciding instead to work after his sophomore year in college.
“It is now 10 years later and I’m back in school trying to finish what I started,” Joe says. “In hindsight, my dad’s advice was spot on. This has been a tremendous learning experience for me and I’m doing better in school now than I ever did when it was my fulltime job.  As a kid we don’t realize how easy we can make things on ourselves if we set our priorities correctly.”
Joe is hoping to help youth with some of these lessons learned by being one of 12 volunteers involved in the Young Leaders Society Youth Mentor Program.
This is a new program United Way of Greater Kansas City is undertaking in partnership with the Full Employment Council of Kansas City. In it, the adult volunteers will provide professional mentoring for one year to young people age 18-26. The goal is to help these young people develop tools that will help them transition into the working world while achieving postsecondary goals.
Many of the young people are participants in Project Rise, a United Way program that re-engages young dropouts through educational activities and paid internships.
The mentor program will include small group work, some one-on-one time, and tours of area companies, including the opportunity for the young adults to interface with people who do different things in each of those companies.
The companies were chosen because they are in high-growth, high-demand sectors. In addition, an online community is being built so progress can be re-enforced and young people can get access to information in as many ways possible.
But the center of this program is the individual time the mentors, like Joe Prenger, will have with the young adults. It is designed to be the kind of time needed for honest conversations with hopes that the volunteers are viewed as role models helping the young adults stay focused on their career path.
Joe Prenger considers himself lucky because he had many role models while growing up, including his parents, his brother and his uncle.
“My role models were many when I was growing up for many reasons,” Joe says. “They were all integral in my development to becoming the man I am today. They all showed me great tools and lessons that I still carry to this day.”
Joe says he learned things such as hard work, due diligence, persistence and fortitude.
“I would later learn that those were all synonymous with other traits that were engrained in me such as respect, the Golden Rule, give to others, whether it is time, resources or effort, give what you can for the betterment of society, and last, which is the hardest, be quick to love and slow to anger,” Joe says. “Try to love with ease, be patient and don’t let the heat of the moment take over your emotions and draw out anger.  I’ve tried to live by these lessons that I’ve learned from my role models. “

 

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Work

Mary PebleyIt was the bit about seeking people with everyday resumes that grabbed Mary Pebley’s attention.
“Anytime ordinary citizens are empowered, I am pretty much for that,” Mary says.
Ordinary people are exactly what our community needs in deciding how we can help each other.
This week extraordinary work begins for approximately 200 community volunteers involved in the resource investment work of United Way of Greater Kansas City. Over the next several weeks, these volunteers will devote countless hours reviewing 319 program requests for United Way funding from human services’ agencies across our region.
Ultimately, their recommendations for which programs receive funding in 2014-2016 will be presented this spring for final approval by United Way of Greater Kansas City’s Board of Trustees.
It’s a big task, but one Mary Pebley was excited about from the beginning when she first read a call out for volunteers in a newspaper article.
“It said United Way was looking for ordinary citizens who had the ability to read financial statements to help in the allocation process,” she says. “I could read a financial statement and I was self-employed so I could set aside time without asking permission.”
Mary’s knowledge of and relationship with United Way up to that time was pretty much her filling out a workplace campaign pledge card. She admits that all she really knew about United Way was it was easy to give through her job.
When Mary she left the workplace to start her own therapeutic humor business 10 years ago she kept investing in United Way as an individual giver.
“Once I became involved in working with allocations I saw much more clearly the difference that money donated to United Way can make in our community,” Mary says.
Tim Fortin, a vice president at Lockton Companies, was uncertain at first about what to expect from the resource investment process.

Tim Fortin
“But after attending the volunteer orientation and reviewing the materials submitted by various programs that support community initiatives, I was looking forward to the group discussions to determine the extent of support we could provide for 10 of the 140 or so great local programs,” he says. “I really enjoyed the interaction with the various program sponsors to hear first-hand how they are improving the lives of their clients throughout our region.”
Tim says being involved in the allocation process has given him a lot of benefits personally. For one, he has a greater understanding of how United Way interacts with local service providers, such as giving them guidance on what they can do to better support their clients.
Also, Tim says he now has a deeper awareness of the local programs built to support United Way’s focus on education, income and health.

“I have a confirmation that the volunteers and financial contributors to the United Way are having a strong impact on the overall health of our community,” Tim says.  “And I
have met and built some great new relationships with like-minded community volunteers from diverse backgrounds, proving that when the community comes together in support of positive outcomes, we can really accomplish more than any one person can do alone.
“I can’t think of a better way to get involved in the community in a way that impacts so many diverse programs and all of the clients that they serve. As a community impact volunteer, I feel like my time and effort to serve is multiplied ten-fold thanks to the exposure to various programs.”

A Large Bag Overflowing With Warmth

Brad M 2

The only thing quicker than the skillful hands of the Mission Sewing group is their generous hearts.
Those attributes provided integral support for a United Way funded program and put a smile on the face of five-year-old Brad Motelet.
Brad’s mom, Eula, participates in a parenting class offered at Faxon Elementary School in Kansas City by The Family Conservancy and funded by United Way of Greater Kansas City and Front Porch Alliance. The class’ curriculum includes role playing, videos and discussions on subjects like how best to separate from your child when going to work or how to get a kid to sleep without a tantrum.
A class mantra: We all learn something when we are here.
Parenting Class 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parenting Class 2

 

 

 

 

 

It’s always good to hear what other parents are doing with their children and see if it works with mine,” says Steven Henderson, a Kansas City father raising six children in a blended family.
Amid a free flow of ideas and suggestions between the parents, there are unique elements designed to enrich their time together. For example, the class begins with everyone up from their seats to join in an exercise video. Fresh fruit and water are available at a nearby table.
After all, a healthy person is more likely to be a healthy parent.
And often parents are offered donated items for their families for free. Diapers, wipes, pacifiers, clothing, baby bottles, blankets.
“It’s a way to say thank you for welcoming the idea of positive parenting,” says Sabrina Boyd, The Family Conservancy parent education coordinator who leads the class at Faxon.
In Sabrina’s classroom last Wednesday was a large bag filled with children’s hats and mittens all made in speedy fashion by the Mission Sewing group at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village.
As the Kansas City area was enduring frigid weather last week, Betsy Vander Velde, The Family Conservancy’s president and chief executive officer, and Dean Olson, vice president of programs, were attending a meeting where the Faxon Elementary parenting class was mentioned. Betsy brought up how Mission Sewing had been creating knitted and sewn items for families tied to the conservancy for more than 20 years.
It didn’t take long for the group to realize that because of the frightening low temperatures outside there would be no better time to see if there were winter items for Sabrina’s class on Wednesday.
A call was immediately made to Edie Hultman, Mission Sewing’s coordinator. That was on Monday.

Edie H.
The timing was perfect as Mission Sewing was going to resume its Tuesday sewing time the next day. The only problem was the group didn’t have hats and mittens available as all such work had been donated for the holidays.
“We sent everything out before the beginning of December so I knew we didn’t have anything,” Edie says. “We got to talking and decided why couldn’t we make hats and mittens. At least it would be a start.”
At 9:30 a.m. the 19 sewers got started on donated fleece. The hats were easy as Mission Sewing often makes hats for many nonprofits, such as United Way partner agency Cancer Action.
But there was no pattern for the mittens so the sewers depended on the youngsters in the church’s child care during the day to serve as mitten models.
By 3 p.m. there was a large bag overflowing with warmth. It included a set for five-year-old Brad Motelet.

 

Brad M 1
For the parents in Sabrina’s class, items like these could mean one less thing to budget, one less thing to run to the store to get – creating more quality time for parents to spend with their children.
As little Brad Motelet’s mom simply summed up while looking down at the new set of hat and mittens: “This means a lot.”

A Pathway Emerges From A Crumbling Brick Wall

There are only a few pages filled in Natasha Ford’s notebook.
But those few pages tell a powerful story of a young woman who was once a homeless teenage high school dropout.
Natasha's notebookOn the very first page of Natasha’s notebook there is a pencil drawing of a crumbling brick wall. Supports have broken away and lay beside the wall.
“It’s my struggles,” the 21-year-old Natasha says as she gently passes her hand over the artwork she created several months ago. “I really didn’t have support. Everything I was dealing with was falling apart.”
Not anymore.
Natasha is heading later on this day to take her college placement test. It is a day she always knew she wanted; she just didn’t know how she could get it done until she enrolled in United Way’s Project Rise.
Project Rise is a part of United Way of Greater Kansas City’s Decade of Difference initiative. It combines high school/GED completion, paid internships and career and education planning to re-connect “disconnected” young adults with the skills they need to put their lives back on track.
The Kansas City program is one of only four in the country operating as national Social Innovation Fund test site to tackle a troubling trend. As a nation, we have nearly six million young people disconnected from work or training/education during the critical years of young adulthood (ages 18 – 24) when most people are establishing careers. About 1.6 million of these young adults are like Natasha with more significant challenges, including having dropped out of high school. Communities are trying to find ways to re-engage these young adults because if we don’t, the cost is high: Each disconnected young adult who is not re-engaged is projected to cost taxpayers $170,740, plus additional social costs of more than $500,000 in things such as lost earnings.
Project Rise is a holistic approach that not only offers GED programs but addresses other barriers such as homelessness, childcare and transportation. Project Rise also helps participants plan for life beyond the program with post-secondary education support and connections to permanent employment.
This unique approach was exactly what Natasha says she needed.
Natasha dropped out of high school at the end of her sophomore year because it was becoming too violent. Ultimately, a fight she was involved in ended with her glasses being broken. Natasha didn’t have the money for new glasses. Her near-sightedness was so bad that she couldn’t function in a classroom.
Immediately after she left high school, she enrolled in a job training program. But it didn’t hold her interest.
Natasha then enrolled in an adult basic literacy program that offered GED classes. When she enrolled, Natasha had a job that required her to attend evening classes. But then she lost her job, and found herself couch-surfing staying with family and friends sometimes only for one night at a time. She had to stop going to the program because she couldn’t arrange transportation to the classes.
Natasha says she was getting concerned because she was getting older and beginning to age out of opportunities.
Then she heard about Project Rise.
“I didn’t want this program to fail,” Natasha says. “I needed it to work.”
She is quick to point out a reason for her success. “I had a lot of support from the teachers and the counselors,” Natasha says. There are other aspects of the program that helps young people like Natasha who have multiple challenges. Aspects that might seem insignificant to others – like a monthly bus pass. That pass, Natasha explains, allows participants more flexibility so they can focus on their academics and not worry whether they have a valid bus pass.
Natasha FordNatasha lives in her own apartment and is now enrolled to start at Penn Valley Community College.
Her first day of college is Jan. 13.
So how would Natasha draw that picture now? “I might not draw another wall. Maybe it would be a pathway. My struggles would be at the bottom and then it would show more of my successes… Or maybe I would tear down this wall or break it all together.

“I know that if I built it again it would be stronger. It would have support. It would be sturdy and straight.”

 

A Place Where Dreams Can Grow – in the middle of Independence

There was a lot flourishing at Drumm Farm this summer.Drumm 7
Corn. Tomatoes. Cucumbers. Snapdragons.
Kody Saak and his chickens.
Kody is a spunky 9-year-old who loves chickens. Thanks to a program at Drumm Farm that receives funding from United Way of Greater Kansas City, Kody is beginning to take that love and build a dream for himself.
“I am addicted to chickens,” he says standing alongside his chicken coops. As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Kody raises a coop’s metal roof, bends his slim body to reach inside to scoop up a hen.
His hold on the bird is gentle – yet firm enough so it is understood who is in control. Kody brings the hen up to his face, talking and stroking softly as if he is speaking to a beloved pet, and then – when the camera lens is focused on both boy and fowl – grins like a proud parent.

Drumm 6     Kody says getting his hands (and knees  and just about everything else) dirty in
this program has given him direction  – a goal for his future.
“Chicken farmer – I bet that is what I am  going to do when I grow up,” says
the fourth-grader.
There is immediate fulfillment as well.
“It’s just fun to see nature and be around  a whole bunch of animals,” Kody says.
Indeed, having the kids being amid nature  is just one of the components of
the program,  says farm manager Lucas Signorelli.

Drumm Farm Center for Children in Independence offers on-site housing for families
who provide foster care for youth from infant to 18 years. (Kody has been adopted by his
foster family.)  Drumm Farm was established in 1919 by Kansas City businessman,
Major Andrew Drumm, as a home and working farm for orphaned and impoverished
boys.

The farm program for the children has three main areas.
The gardening program includes of 30 raised beds that the youth and families tend. Drumm 3
“It gives us a chance to say, ‘This is what a weed looks like and this is how you pull it’,” Signorelli says.
The second component is the activities the vast open space Drumm Farm provides, such as walking trails and studying nature.
“We can get them outside and engaged with their senses,” Signorelli explains. “Engage them in nature.”
The third component is the work program for the teenagers with actual time cards and salaries. The older youth work the fields and the livestock as well as operate a very popular retail farm stand on Saturdays.
This is the second year for the stand.
Signorelli loves how the program has a tie to Drumm Farm’s agricultural heritage.
And, of course, what this program – especially the chance to interact with the public at the farm stand – does for the youth.
“They can say, ‘I am good at something. I have something to get excited about’,” Signorelli says. “It is a confidence boost.
“I think what we have happening here is profound,” Signorelli says.
“It is a unique situation. It’s a farm with foster kids and we’re in the middle of Independence.”

Drumm 4

100 Experiences In A Simple White Bag

Early August is saddest part of the year for Janis Smalley.
“Everything is on the shelves,” parent educator Smalley
explains as she gazes around the room.
Indeed, Smalley is surrounded by shelves overflowing with
educational toys and books neatly tucked inside $1 small, sturdy
white-net laundry bags.
Each bag here at the Success By 6 Resource Center at Freda Markley Early Childhood Center in the Hickman Mills School District is waiting – waiting for the chance to be grabbed by a child who will carry it  home for exploring and learning.
Success By 6 is an early childhood education initiative of United Way of Greater Kansas City. It was started in 2002 and now has 11 sites in Belton, Blue Springs, Center, Fort Osage, Grandview, Success By 6 BHarrisonville, Hickman Mills, Independence, North Kansas City, Oak Grove and Raytown school districts.
Thousands of children have gotten an early boost in learning because of these centers.
Why is a program like Success By 6 so vital? Research shows 90 percent of the brain’s growth occurs by age six. These centers are keen on helping with learning more than just shapes, letters and numbers. The staff at these centers help parents on teaching children how to be respectful, develop a discipline plan, and deal with any hyperactivity.
And there is a lot more to these centers than the items available to be taken home. There are play and reading areas. There are computers equipped with kid-friendly software for children to use.
In Smalley’s room, like in the other resource centers, there are spots so children can make and take crafts.
Inside those white-net laundry bags are carefully selected educational items arranged by age and developmental stage. Smalley always includes one more item in every bag.
“All toys come with a book,” she says. “You don’t check out any toys without a book.”
Emphasizing literacy as a part of every play experience is important to Smalley.
Not surprisingly, the staff at these centers will often see several children from the same family – such as the Abdelghany family at the Fred Markley Early Childhood Center.
Marym, who turned three this month, is the third AbdelghanySuccess By 6 C child to enjoy the Success By 6 center.  Already her two older brothers have used the resource center: 6-year-old Mohamed, who is going into first grade, and 7-year-old Abdelrahman, who is entering the second grade this fall. Both boys attended pre-school at Freda Markley.
“I want to teach my children,” says their father Ahmed Abdelghany.
On this August Friday afternoon, Ahmend sits in a child-size chair at a child-size table cutting out sharks, fish and flowers from construction paper to offer to his own children as embellishments on their pictures.
He pauses from his cutting and looks around the room at all the toys and books in all the bags.  Ahmend says it would be impossible for a parent to recreate what the center can offer a child and a family.
“Every toy can give a child 100 experiences,” Ahmed says. ”Just think, you have 100 toys and with every one of the toys you get 100 experiences.”
Success By 6 E

Smalley designs her room with the idea of it being welcoming to families such as the Abdelghanys.
She wants the children to remember where the room is and, more importantly, that it is there for them.
“The kids know it is here and they can play,” Smalley says.
Now with school in session, the number of white bags on the shelves is dwindling.
Smalley says most of the toys and books will return someday.
“People take a lot of responsibility, especially people who use the center a lot,” Smalley says. “I have actually gotten notes from people that say, ‘I know something is missing, I’ll keep looking for it.”
Really, for Smalley, it is OK if an item spends a little more time at the home of a child.
“I would rather the item be out in the community with people using it than sitting on the shelf.”

Success By 6 D

The Tale of Two Readers

It took JaVion Thompson no time at all to put down his ice cream and pick up a book.
The fact that there was no fuss from the toddler didn’t surprise his mom, Roshelle Thompson.
“We have a lot of books at home,” she says. “He likes the pictures and the colors.”JaVion Blog
JaVion, who will turn 2 in August, is the youngest of Roshelle’s three  children. They all love to read like their mom. Roshelle devours thrillers like the Alex Cross series by James Patterson.
JaVion loves to be read to by his nine-year-old sister, Heather Cummings.
All of that led to an easy decision for Roshelle to sign JaVion up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Sponsored locally by the United Way Women’s Leadership Council, this innovative early childhood learning initiative will give more than 1,200 low-income children from birth to age 5 a free, age-appropriate book every month.
Why does Roshelle have such a commitment to reading for her children?
“I want them to be successful,” she says. “You have to read to understand what’s going on around you.”
She says she wants them to be able to interpret things correctly, on their own.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library already has received incredible support from the Kansas City community.
BMO Harris Bank and the Government Employees Health Association are the two corporate sponsors. In addition, there are more than 35 individuals who have signed up as library curators (those who donate $100 or more) – including Chloe Schade, an incoming sophomore at Shawnee Mission West High School.
Chloe decided to host a different kind of birthday celebration when she turned 15 last March.
She texted the friends she invited  with a request: Could they either give a present for Kids 4 Kids,  a Gifts In Kind program supervised through United Way, or a donation for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
At the birthday party, she received about 10 gifts for Kids 4 Kids and $100, which allowed her to make a curator donation.
Chloe’s interest in helping the Imagination Library comes from her own interest in reading.
It was commonplace for Chloe to be read to by her parents before sleep.Chloe Blog
Her favorite book back then was “Disney’s Princess Storybook.” The evidence of how much she loved it as a child is evident.
“It’s worn out,” Chloe says of the book.
Chloe’s mom, Jodi Schade, mistakenly thought her daughter could read at age 3.
The evidence that Chloe still loves to read is evident at her bedside table.
There is the 900-plus paged book, “Le Morte D’Arthur, “  for her honors English class this fall.
“It’s a little intimidating,” Chloe says.
The teen thinks reading books digitally is fine, but admits there is nothing like holding a book, especially to where a bookmark has moved through the pages.
“You get to see how far you’ve come. You feel more accomplished,” Chloe says. “If you can read, you can make it. You’ve really accomplished something.”

I Wish There Had Been This When I Was Young

Even before Marcus Williams walked out the doors of the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center, he knew his life was changed by a piece of advice.
He was adamant about taking a college accounting class.
Williams was among the 100 teens and young adults who attended “Face Time: Careers, Connections, Clear Face Time BlogDirections,” United Way of Greater Kansas City’s Income Day of Action event held at the Kauffman Foundation.
Face Time’s purpose was to provide a way for teens and young adults, most recruited through our partner agencies, to interact with adult volunteers in a variety of activities including mock job interviews and a “dress for success” contest using mannequins donated by IDD InStore Design Display.
A key component of the event was the 70 adult volunteers who participated, including Anita Rodriguez, executive team lead for assets protection at Target.
“I believe in making an impact and getting kids where they want to go,” says Rodriguez, an active proponent for helping young people. “It was good event, I loved interacting with the kids.”
The youth posed great questions. The adult volunteers presented a lot of terrific big picture scenarios.
Rodriguez liked the event because it gave her chance to do what she likes best: Outreach to diverse populations.
“I think it is important for them to see people who look like them who are in positions that are successful, instead of just reading about it,” she says.
Williams, a 19-year-old from North Kansas City, found out about Face Time through his college counselor at W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center, a United Way partner agency.
The incoming sophomore at Maple Woods Community College plans to major in either business or criminology.
“I loved every bit of it,” Williams says of Face Time. “I got a chance to talk to professionals. It was a good opportunity to learn.”
Like many of the youthful participants, Williams accumulated a stack of business cards – and much more.
Like the advice he received from the accountant.
“She told me I might not want to go into the accounting field but it might be good to take an accounting course,” he says. “She told me how accounting plays a huge part in my life. She was right. I am definitely taking an accounting class this fall.”
“It was good to get a glimpse at other things,” Williams says. “It was a good opportunity to learn something about something that might be a second choice or a ‘Plan B’.”
Paula Odu, 18, agreed.
“It’s great just getting the exposure to know other options,” she says.
As one professional who volunteered at Face Time observed, “I wish there had been this kind of event when I was young.”